This is the first book of the best-selling Outlander series by established and prolific author Diana Gabaldon, though initially entitled Outlander in the U.S., it’s U.K. title is Cross Stitch. Would it live up to the enthusiastic reviews I’ve read?
In 1945, Claire Randall is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently she walks through a stone circle in the Hightlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds. A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming.
That is as much of the chatty blurb I’m prepared to divulge – my policy of NEVER going near the back cover before reading the book once more paid dividends as I wouldn’t have touched this offering if I’d read the blurb before tucking into it.
This doorstop of a book – all 863 pages – manages to effectively evoke the period of Jacobite Scotland really well. Gabaldon is a technically accomplished writer, whose unfussy direct style nonetheless successfully recreated the expanses of heather moorland and the famously inclement weather. Her cast of Scottish characters also bounce off the page – Claire’s interaction with them is nuanced and interesting, and often funny. Her romantic hero is suitably tough and conflicted with plenty of edges to keep the relationship interesting.
If you have youngsters in the habit of reading your books, be aware that the strong romantic element running through the book doesn’t always end at the bedroom door, or on the edge of the wooded copse… There is a fair amount of sex throughout the book and also some shocking dollops of violence, which given the period in history, is completely in keeping. But nonetheless, I wouldn’t be particularly happy to have a preteen or young teenager reading it.
What set this book alight for me, is Claire’s character. I love her gutsy, angry response when the chips are down – and given that she has spent World War II nursing broken, traumatised men in difficult circumstances, her tough reaction is completely convincing. While Romance generally doesn’t do it for me unless aliens are involved, I was prepared to make an exception for this book – because it is exceptionally well plotted, well written with plenty of narrative tension and despite its length, I burned through it in less than a week, unable to put it down.
If historical time travel served with a hefty helping of romance is to your taste and you haven’t yet encountered this series, then go searching for it – it’s worth it.